The keynote speaker at Quality Meat Scotland's Scottish Pig Industry conference this week gave Scottish pig producers attending the event plenty of food for thought in terms of opportunities ahead.
Professor John Deen from the University of Minnesota, USA, is a doctor of veterinary medicine and an expert in epidemiology and economics within the pig industry.
Brought up on a pig farm in Southern Ontario, Canada, Professor Deen has spent his life studying pigs. He went to Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario and practised near there before studying for a PhD in epidemiology and economics and deciding to concentrate on academia.
Following a spell in North Carolina, he moved to the heartland of the USA pig industry and during his 16 years at the University of Minnesota has worked in the field of swine production, welfare and international disease control.
His presentation at the conference, which was attended by around 90 delegates, gave Scottish pig farmers plenty of food for thought. He believes that over a lifetime in the industry, things change but stay the same. He said: "Some of the issues for pig farmers are the same now as they were 20 years ago - disease, marketing and price threats."
However, he can see some real opportunities for Scottish pig farmers based on an island economy where commonality of resources and challenges, limited competition and a shared knowledge base are benefits which can be exploited. He urged farmers to understand the whole chain from birth to plate so they are in a position to adapt quickly to change. He also pointed out that one of the biggest assets to the industry is the younger generation and said, "we should teach them well but we can also learn from them."
He said: "Pig quality is all about the challenges of getting a pig to slaughter point effectively and consistently,” said Professor Deen. “In the past that was all farmers had to worry about. Now they not only have to be concerned with disease and welfare, but also about the quality of pork to give consumers a good eating experience.
"Pig farmers have to have the answer to all the consumer questions on production, disease, welfare and eating quality,” he added.
Professor Deen's presentation focused on quality in both marketing and manufacturing. He discussed the main objectives for successful pig production which apply regardless of state or country and include disease, cost and quality control.
Minnesota is the second largest pork producing state in the USA, next to the neighbouring state of Iowa. The large corn and soya producing area forms the base of a massive pig industry where they can usually produce pork cheaper than anywhere else in the world. The area is a huge exporter of pork, particularly, in recent years to China and Japan.
This is the first time Professor Deen has visited Scotland in person to speak, although he has been involved with some internet talks to producers in the past. He believes Scotland has an advantage over the USA in that the sector is small here in comparison and can change direction more quickly, taking advantage of changes in technology, production techniques and markets.
"Scottish producers have a good technical support structure through QMS which should enable them to address their challenges,” he said.
Professor Deen's ongoing research programme in Minnesota includes influenza transmission in swine populations and optimisation of control measures and capacity development for the prevention, detection and control of emerging pandemic threats. He is also working on optimisation of swine marketing strategies to minimise variation and maximise net returns.